‘She may look like an elegant lady, but she fights like a fierce tiger…’
This woman is also known as Aliao and the Maiden of the Southern Forest. She lived during the Spring and Autumn period in ancient China. Her father was a hunter in the southern state of Yue and likely passed on his skills in archery and swordsmanship to her.
She had a gift for martial arts and became extremely adept, particularly in the art of the sword. Her talents were famous throughout the province and came to the attention of King Goujian of Yue. She was summoned by him to give a demonstration before the King’s court.
The young woman impressed Goujian so much that he asked for her advice in training to his armies. Her response is the earliest known Chinese exposition of the art of the sword:
“The art of the sword is profound and hard to understand despite appearing insignificant and easy. It is similar to a door, in that it can be opened and closed; it can be divided into yin and yang. The way of fighting… is to strengthen one’s inner spirit while remaining outwardly calm and well mannered. She may look like an elegant lady, but she fights like a fierce tiger. With this imposing manner, you can pit a single fighter against one hundred, and pit one hundred against one thousand.”
This impressed Goujian even further and he gave her the title Yuenü (literally ‘the Yue Woman’ or ‘Lady of Yue’). Further to this, he decreed that Yuenü would train his officers, so that they could instruct his army in her method.
Yuenü‘s philosophy of swordsmanship went on to influence Chinese martial arts for generations.
- The Spring and Autumn Period is the name for a period in Chinese history covering approximately the years between 771 and 476 BCE. It corresponds roughly with the first half of the Eastern Zhou dynasty.
The Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Antiquity through Sui – Lily Xiao Hong Lee
Sword of the Yue Maiden is a 1970 short story by Jin Yong and bears similarities to the life of Yuenü. It was serialised as a television programme in 1984 starring Moon Lee as the maiden.